I can consider myself a religious and a spiritual man. The religious aspect of me can be best compared to that of a religious extremist, because those within my network promoted nothing except our own beliefs, values, and ghetto moral fiber. We believed in our turf; we worshipped it. We cared nothing for society’s wants, hopes, needs and dreams simply because they never cared for any of our own.  Our distorted reality only aggravated these circumstances and we evolved to become volatile concoctions of mayhem and destruction- which ultimately insured that not only do we become a highly potential risk to the status quo and our own collective societies; we become victims to our own venomous, psychoactive selves.  This caste of young miscreants and hooligans that I describe has been classified as gang-members. They infect the population like the AIDS virus.

The inevitable outcome of this complex life-problem is simply death or prison. It has conditioned us to accept this grim truth. Death is the only collector that cannot be ducked and dodged. We recklessly have beckoned this entity that we have termed as Death. At one time or another, we’ve stared it in the eyes in heavy situations… and it blinked first. MY own reward for this transitory victory was being remanded to a county jail first hand, then ultimately sent to a Colorado prison for multiple years.

Reverend Leon Kelly (Open Door Youth Gang Alternative) and I crossed paths due to my parole officer recommending that I participate in a brand-new program that was solely structured around my own personal gang-related issues. In the past, I’d been forced to attend drug and alcohol classes due to it being D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) protocol and conditions of my former parole agreement. However, I’m not truly a slave to any substance except the gang culture. At one time, it was my God, my wife, my child… If it did not exist, neither did my life. Before meeting the Reverend, life was a program that I believed I had all figured out. I was a machine; a soldier, a bastard progeny of preceding ghetto bastards of the same design.

I met with the Reverend in his office when his Flipping the Script Program was just in its initial stages. We dialogued on personal levels- as well as on impersonal and indifferent planes. He emphasized that he wanted no talkers and half-walkers. He only wanted a family that genuinely craved change, and ultimately progress. I wasn’t buying a D.O.C. funded program for individuals of my caliber though. I was taught to trust no one. Despite this, I agreed to his terms and attended the first gang-class funded by the D.O.C.

Pointedly, not only myself, but a majority of those in attendance were extremely distrustful and critical of everyone’s motives and intentions who were invited to speak at each specific class that spanned for six weeks. I could most certainly be considered the most critical of my peers in attendance. I was rude, hostile, intrusive and bluntly, a total prick in the side of those who ultimately, at that time, clutched my fate in their hands.  They gave me multiple ‘passes’. Aside from my own choices, I could have regressed back to the D.O.C. from my abject disrespect alone. I suppose they all saw a potential in me that I could not see in myself at the time.

I don’t know where it started, but the Reverend began to have a positive impact on me. When I ran out of gas while heading to his class, he was the one who tended to my needs when I had nothing except an ankle monitor, and a curfew. At this time, he bought a gas can, filled it with gasoline, and did not leave me until my vehicle operated sufficiently. He consoled me in my most dire moments and quelled my apprehension. He has imparted different perspectives for me to embrace, or consider at the least.  As part of this class curriculum, he required us to write in detail what our life plan was. I explained how I wanted to be a published writer. In our meeting, he remarked, “Okay, so you want to be a writer someday.”

I replied, “No, I am a writer. I have already written books.”

“So what do you need?” he inquired. “I need time and a computer…” Within a week, he had a laptop for me and I began to type on it like a mad scientist. There was not one excuse I could proffer at this point for being unable to pursue my most fervent aspirations and dreams. There was once a Fisher of Men in the old days; today, we have a fisher of little ghetto boys that hear and see nothing,. Yet this stubborn man continues to fish and  consider each intermittent catch  he encounters to be a grand feast. I thank him for not giving up on me. He saw potential in me that I indeed see, but am also afraid of.  The Reverend constantly emphasizes, “I believe in all of you, but I am unable to believe in you more than you believe in yourselves.”

I don’t know how this old-timer hooked and reeled me in, but I’ve been ensnared and still do not know the formula in which he accomplished it. I still stumble, but do so less now. I am a gang-junkie and the only treatment afforded to us is a scholarship to prison or an early grave. The Reverend is like the soldier on the battlefield who sees me get riddled with slugs by the enemies, and still refuses to leave me behind. What kind of comrade does this? Only my ‘Bigg Homies’ have done this. The rest already exist in permanent absence and there is nothing I can proffer except my pleas to the Almighty to bless their souls.

On the 5th of November, 2010, I was invited to an exquisite dinner at the Starkey Mansion hosted by Dr. Lloyd Lewan and Mary Louise Starkey.  I was given a black suit to wear, a tie and white shirt. I looked pretty good but it was an honor that I believed I didn’t even truly deserve.

Upon arrival, I quickly became introduced to a quality of life, elegance and etiquette that is alien to my own polarized concept of how this immense world functions. Our host, the First Lady of Service, Ms. Mary Louise Starkey welcomed us and orchestrated the event like a highly skillful symphony composer. It was a nine course feast; many of the foods were new. Their Chef had formerly served 3 Presidents, a Vice President, and Queen Noor in his long career.  During the course of the evening we were invited to participate in what she calls mirrored service with her service students (Starkey International Institute for Household Management), tales of etiquette and their historical origin, and to in turn answer the question, “Tell your story of coming from a great famine to a wonderful life feast.”  She challenged those of us in attendance to share our truths, our highs and our lows that we have encountered through prison and the course of our lives We (those who have partaken of the same grim cup of experience) were treated as equals.

The words and views we shared were weighed with value, not with condescension. I elicited many genuine smiles that night because I was not perceived as the individual I have been in the former days. I was “a young man.” I was a civilian. I have been an urban politician and an uncompromising soldier for over sixteen years and I have grown tired of such nonsense now. I was happy to not have to put on a façade for this occasion. I was happy to simply be myself and be classified as a young man.

My spiritual essence is now what hinders me from relapsing back into gang mayhem. I love life. I respect life. I love and respect my freedom as well. I still don’t know how the Reverend ‘got’ me. I believed to be one among a dying breed, to be too obdurate and irresolute to change. He reeled me out of that murky water and I have been nursed back to becoming able to breathe oxygen that is free of the contaminants that will insure my spiritual and carnal death. He is a dying breed; possibly the Denver city’s progeny of gang advocacy. He has made significant progress…he was able to influence me.